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The ailment that plagues Pakistan

Pakistan's overtly politicised military may fulfil selfish, short-term interests but is destroying the nation itself.

india Updated: Dec 29, 2007 02:04 IST

To a large extent, there were two separate struggles being fought in Pakistan. One was a domestic political battle between a military that played divide-and-rule games with an anaemic civilian leadership. The other was a half-hearted struggle against insurgent groups in Pakistan's border areas, insurgents who combined tribalism with militant Islamic ideology. These two struggles overlapped intermittently. The military used the insurgents for their own ends at times — such as keeping Kashmir on the boil. They also attacked them when they got out of hand and went after the United States. Because the insurgents were Washington's obsession, civilian leaders would promise to fight the insurgents in return for US support. With Benazir Bhutto's assassination, these two struggles have merged into one.

This convergence has been evident for some time now. The Lal Masjid attack in Islamabad and the subsequent suicide bombings in the heartland of Pakistan, for example, had signalled that the firewall between the two struggles was coming apart. Bhutto's death by a suicide bomber and the knowledge that her political re-entry was treated with fear and loathing by two groups — hardliners in the military and Islamic militants — should hopefully put an end to the Islamabad elite's belief that tribal insurgency was basically a US problem. It isn't.

In its own befuddled manner, Washington understood that the restoration of democracy was the long-term solution to Pakistan's ailments. However, its legacy of treating the military as its most dependable ally in all things pertaining to Pakistan made the US push for unreal solutions like the cohabitation of Bhutto with Pervez Musharraf. The US is not the only country that tended to look to Pakistan's military as the simple shortcut to getting things done in Pakistan. India has traditionally believed a Kashmir settlement would be best done with a military man. Elected governments have been seen as wishy-washy and ineffective.

Bhutto's assassination underlines a simple truth: other countries, most notably the US, need to recognise that the embrace, even the toleration, of Pakistan's overtly politicised military may fulfil selfish, short-term interests. However, this embrace is slowly but surely destroying the nation of Pakistan. It is short-circuiting the steady flow of its political development. It is also leaving a political space for militant Islam. Finally, it allows the military to treat terrorism as simply another tactical weapon that at worst should be stored in the armoury for use in the future. Bhutto's followers are calling her a "martyr for democracy". If the world at least realises that only the full flower of democracy can save the rapidly desolate political landscape of Pakistan, then she would have genuinely played that role. Pakistan's military is a cancer within its society. It is time that everyone understood there is nothing benign about this malignancy in